Worried investors jam switchboard

Hundreds of private investors jammed phone lines at Barings Fund Managers yesterday, hoping to discover whether their funds were safe in the wake of the merchant bank's collapse.

At one point yesterday morning telephone lines went down completely as managers and other staff struggled to assure savers their money was safe.

One member of staff, who did not wish to be named, said: "All we have been doing today is answering the phone. Clearly, there are a hell of a lot of worried people out there, some of them even more worried than we are in here." Baring Fund Managers, with almost 50,000 private investors in 17 unit and four investment trusts, is a separate part of the merchant bank's operations.

More than £1.3bn is invested in a range of its funds, including £374m in Barings' European Growth trust and £130m in the Global Bond trust. Investors who managed to get through to the Barings switchboard were being put in contact with staff managing their funds.

"We are telling investors that their money is perfectly safe," said another member of staff. "The unit trusts are ring-fenced and subject to independent trustees. There will be no calls on that money to help pay off what has happened.

"The trusts themselves are valued on the strength of their underlying assets. Movements will only take place insofar as they do, although in the case of the Far East this may be significant in the short term."

He added: "At the moment no-one is telling us what is going to happen to us. Our hope is that we will be sold off as a separate entity. But what we aren't sure of is how many of our jobs will be left. It is pretty hard telling our savers that their money is safe when our jobs aren't."

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